Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Way Ahead?

In the wake of Tuesday's GOP meltdown, there is no shortage of advice on how the party can rebuild itself, and reverse the losses of 2006 and 2008. We offered our own advice yesterday; so far, the RNC hasn't requested a detailed briefing. Go figure.

Over at Slate, a panel of Republican luminaries--Tucker Carlson; Ross Douthat, Doug Kmiec, Jim Manzi, Kathleen Parker and Christine Todd Whitman--offered a dialogue on the party's future. Some of their advice is rather obvious; Mr. Douthat says we have "no one to blame but ourselves." Tucker Carlson echoes something we suggested--nominating someone who is articulate, for a change.

In terms of policy, Mr. Manzi offers a pair of detailed suggestions; fix K-12 education, and once the southern border is secured, offer some sort of comprehensive immigration policy, allowing the world's best and brightest to settle in our country.

Both proposals sound eminently sensible, but ultimately, both are fatally flawed. Republicans have been trying to claim the education issue for more than two decades, with only marginal success. Under his proposal, Manzi suggests a federal role in education equivalent to that of the Securities and Exchange Commission in financial markets. Parents and students would enjoy greater choice in schools, and funding would follow their selections.

In terms of oversight, the government would develop (and administer) standardized tests measuring student achievement. Schools would be required to publish performance data, which would be marketed by private sector information firms, akin to rating services for mutual funds. Manzi believes this would lead to better educational choices, and acculturate more Americans to a market economy.

Mr. Manzi also believes that immigation should be less of a law enforcement issue, and more of a recruiting process. With our borders secure, he opines, the U.S. could open immigration centers around the world, targeting individuals with the skills and education needed for our economy. If nothing else, it solve the talent problem facing our high-tech industry.

Unfortunately, both ideas are DOA, at least for now. Democrats are prepared to gut "No Child Left Behind" because it demands accountability for local schools. To keep the NEA happy, the Obama administration will increase federal funding, while decreasing requirements for performance and oversight. This may be the time to propose a new approach for our schools, but the idea won't get much traction with the Democrats in charge--and their media allies touting Obama's "new approach."

The immigration proposal will also be rejected because it's far too restrictive. Despite overwhelming public opposition, the Democrats remain in favor of open borders, and they'll pursue that policy over the next four years. Illegals represent an irresistable mass of Democratic voters, so the party (and their president) have little incentive to seal the borders, short of another terrorist attack.

Mr. Manzi is correct in demanding that Republicans stand for something, and articulate those views to the American people. And, he's correct is asserting that a return to Reaganism simply won't work. But his ideas are a little too advanced for a party in need of basic reform. Before considering something as esoteric as education or immigration reform, the GOP must return to Reaganism, and the timeless beliefs that form the foundation of the party's ideology.

The party needs to believe in something, and the maxims of Mr. Reagan are a good place to start. What Manzi proposes are tactical policy shifts, allowing the GOP to stake out territory not far from the Democrats. Ronaldus Magnus would be appalled. Policy differences, he once observed, should be painted in bold colors, not weak pastels. As Republicans stumble forward, the simplicty--and boldness--of Mr. Reagan is clearly lacking.


Ed Rasimus said...

Mr. Manzi's two suggestions seem to indicate clearly how far the Republican Party is out of touch with both the Constitution and the people.

K-12 education might need "fixing" but it would get repaired more effectively by returning to the basic principle that served us so well for the first two centuries of the republic--local control. Schools are traditionally built, funded and staffed by local school board management reflecting the local community. Remove that connection and transfer responsibility to the federal level and you get continuation of the dependency mentality under a one-size-fits-all policy.

As for the border, while security enhancement is a great idea, economic and social realities in the border states mean that the federal impact must be subtle and with consideration for the results beyond simple "feel good" fence building. The border is a community, not a potential Iron Curtain site.

Maybe a better course for the Republicans would be a return to economic conservatism, a pushing away from the pork-barrel, and an application of moral behavior in public positions. Wide stances and raunchy emails not required.

Marshall said...

The "problem" with No Child Left Behind is that the solution it provides isn't really a solution to what ails our schools. NCLB provides some limited visibility into the products of our schools (terribly inefficiently and terribly limited) and at the same time mandates solutions that exacerbates the problems.

What's good about NCLB is that it attempts to provide a common yardstick to measure our students. What's bad is that it only focuses on the harder to educate cohorts and fails to shed light on everyone else.

I have a simple proposal that would yield a hundred times more information at one tenth the cost of our extant national tests (a three orders of magnitude improvement).
Let's take a step back.  The first question that ought to be asked before designing a test is, "What is it that we're trying to measure?" (my background is physics).  All of the current tests are designed to measure the students' knowledge and abilities in specific (and very limited) subjects.  But this is a silly goal!  Students are regularly tested and graded by their schools.  Surely we don't need these additional invasive tests to determine what should already be manifest!
But what we don't have is a means to evaluate and compare student grades at different schools (or even of students in the same schools -- the real question is: how does an 'A' in east St. Louis compare to a 'B' in Scarsdale?  What has the student learned?
Let me propose my solution.  Suppose we had a national database of student scores in all subjects (let's beg the question of who pays for this and how it may be implemented for the moment).  Suppose further that we prepared tests for ALL academic subjects and selected students to be tested in ONE subject by sampling.  Instead of testing all students in a limited number of subjects, we'd test each student in one subject (we could thus add testing in languages, history, art, etc).  We'd match students and test subjects with the intent of gaining sufficient samples to give us a reasonable confidence that we would have measured the value of the respective grades the instructors at that school had handed out.  When the tests are scored and tabulated we would know to a reasonable certainty the answer we seek: just what the value of a 'B' at the Bronx High School of Science is worth relative to a 'B' in Greenwich.
Get back to my question, "What are we trying to measure?"  Well, we'd be measuring the effectiveness of the SCHOOL.  We'd at last have a common yardstick that the parents of schoolchildren could use to force change upon the entrenched bureaucracies.  We'd see an end to grade inflation (an otherwise intractable problem), because over-rewarding students would cheapen the value of all of the grades in a class -- and diminish the ratings of the school itself.  And with this calibration we can use the measurements made by the schools to determine just what our kids are learning -- the school's grades would be MEANINGFUL.  And it would also likely drive the schools back to awarding numerical grades -- yielding ten times the precision (why award an 'A' -- which is weighed as 95, when it would mask the achievements of those who scored 100% and unjustly reward those who scored 90% -- and skew the relative scoring of the school).
 We'd also be able to track educational achievement, year-to-year.  One of the things we can't learn from the current testing regimen is how well are the students actually being educated.  What we get is a data point -- what percentage of a class is over/under national averages.  We don't know which students do better or worse the following year -- which is a better measure of the effectiveness of the school than how smart their student population may be.
Suppose our database has the number of students in a class, the compensation paid to the teacher(s), and the quarterly grades achieved by each student.  With a 10% sample (chosen to examine the differentials between grades won), we'd be able to extrapolate the effectiveness and the cost effectiveness of the teaching of that subject in that grade in that school.  And we'd have a comparative to measure each school against all others.  And, we'd have this measure for ALL academic subjects, not just reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic.  And, we'd have year-to-year progressions of the same students as they progress towards graduation.
I think this would justify my claim to 100 times more information than we have from the present regimen.
As to the costs:  In my state, the Connecticut Mastery tests essential shut down instruction for three days (I recall) every school year.  Each student is thoroughly tested in the major subjects.  With my proposed testing regimen, each student would take a single (two hour?) test in one subject.  One tenth the cost?  Yes, it would be more costly to prepare tests in all subjects, but the same tests could be given each year because no student (nor teacher) would know which subject each student would be tested in -- they couldn't cheat!  There would be some additional cost to stuff a blank envelope with the appropriate test for each student, and then to distribute these envelopes to the schools and then to collect the answer sheets and to score them -- but I don't think these costs would be exorbitant (far less than three days of testing).
 But how much would it cost to develop and maintain this database?  Well, this is directly in my skill set (computers turned out to be much for fun for me than physics).  I am certain we could get sufficient volunteers to build the database and associated administrative tools (web based reporting) for free!  And I am also certain we could get a big company to donate the equipment to run it and likely to house it as well.

Once parents have a common yardstick to compare the costs and effectiveness of their schools versus their neighboring town's, pressure to improve things could and would be forthcoming (think peasants with pitchforks and torches).
Of course, it would help greatly if someone who has big soapbox (like yourself) would promote this idea (hence my letter to you).
Text Books:
We don't need newer textbooks.  A better idea would be to revert to the textbooks that worked before these grand education experiments began in the sixties.   If we reprinted the textbooks that were used in New York City in the 20's (all off copyright), we'd save a ton of money and get much better results.
Textbooks today have far too many pictures and far too little text.  I helped my son with his high school physics in the late nineties and was aghast at how poor was the instructional content of his textbook.

Dividing students into cohorts of similar ability:
What needs to be done tautologically is to separate students by ability and drill basic skills until they are learnt.  Modern schooling is obsessed with teaching "thinking" instead of facts.  The problem is that reasoning is the process by which we navigate (by dead reckoning) from facts to distant shores.  Without that reservoir of fact to draw upon, we cannot learn to think.  And I'd smash their calculators.

When I was educated (in the fifites and early sixties) students were divided into "tracks" (tranches is the better word -- but this was eduspeak of the time) and teachers could do a better and more effective job of teaching with their classes able to absorb at an even pace (think of the one-room-shoolhouse-schoolmarm, running around like the plate jugglers on the old Ed Sullivan show).

Alas, this simple solution fell out of favor in the latter half of our last century when it was pointed out that minority pupils tended to be clumped in the slower tracks. And, this damaged their "self esteem".

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/07/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Infernus said...

The Blind leading the Deaf, Dumb and Stupid.

One thing I believe is that trying to be a Socialist "lite" is a stupid ploy for Conservatives.

I refuse to use the word Republican to mean a Conservative because they blatently are NOT the same.

I am a Democratic Conservative and Republicans are the nearest thing we have.

I LOVE that the "Neo-cons" have been soundly defeated. It shows they are weak poor imitations of real Conservatives. SMALLER Government, MORE Freedoms, LESS Taxation all are part and parcel of the problems.

When thet Republicans had YEARS to fix the state of this mess they did NOTHING. They deserve to be voted out. Until they understand what the people of America want:

Look at the map and realize how much is red. Now realize this year many voted Blue because they were left with a mess of a party with no direction.

Sarah Palin tried to show a distinction and was ignored by her party members. She is not stupid or a disappointment. The McCain team was drawing in Michigan about 4,000 people at rallys. Sarah Palin joined and it was 40,000.

So tell me how she was a drag? Also tell me how McCain and the Republicans or Conservatives think they can continue to ignore the effect of the Mainstream media?

They need to be called out and directly by the candidates. If they are asked a question they need to have done some homework and demand the same treatment as the softballs Democrats get.